Genesis 35:21-22 Reuben’s Incest


One of the things that people don’t like about the Bible is that it deals with all of the sin that Hollywood likes to deal with but it puts it in a light that Hollywood doesn’t like to portray.  The Bible shows you the wickedness of sin and its consequences both here and in eternity.  And it doesn’t paint it up to attract you like Hollywood does.


In this passage, we read about Reuben’s incest with Bilhah, his father’s concubine.  In this lesson, we will study about concubines, incest, and the consequences of this sin.



In the Bible, concubines are like an inferior sort of wife.  There is a distinction made between them and wives.  For instance, Solomon “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines,” (1 Ki. 11:3).  However, they are wives, nonetheless.


  • Judges 19:1-4 – A Levite who had a concubine was “her husband” and her father was his “father in law;”
  • 2 Sam. 12:11-12, 2 Sam. 16:21-22 – Nathan prophesied that a man would lie with David’s “wives.” Absalom fulfilled this prophecy by lying with his “concubines.”
  • Gen. 30:4 – Bilhah was a “concubine” who was given to Jacob to “wife.”



According to Heb. 13:4, the marriage bed is undefiled.  However, incest is a sin that defiles the marriage bed (Gen. 49:4).  Incest is “sexual activity between two people who are considered, for moral and genetic reasons, too closely related to have such a relationship.[1]” In Lev. 18 and Lev. 20, we find lists of the people who are too closely related for sexual activity.  Within those lists we find:


  • Lev. 18:8 – The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness.
  • Lev. 20:11 – And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.


So, God put a prohibition on incest in the law because the nations that he cast out of Canaan had defiled themselves and the land with this sin (Lev. 18:24-30).


In 1 Cor. 5:1, we find that this sin did not stop in the Old Testament.  In fact, incest continues today.  There are statistics that indicate that over 25% of child sexual abuse cases involve incest.



The Old Testament penalty for this type of incest was capital punishment.  In the New Testament, the fellow that was doing this was put out of the church (1 Cor. 5:2-7).  Note that Reuben committed this sin with Bilhah before the law was given, so he was spared the death penalty.  Nevertheless, he suffered a great loss.


  • Gen. 49:4 – Reuben was not allowed to excel because he was unstable as water.
  • 1 Chr. 5:1 – Reuben’s birthright was given to Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Jacob “adopted” as his own sons (Gen. 49:5).
  • 1 Chr. 5:2 – Reuben’s genealogy as the firstborn was reckoned to Judah.  He became the chief ruler.


Reuben lost his reputation, his ability to excel as the firstborn, his birthright and his position as the ruler of the next generation.  What a price to pay for immorality!!!


Just remember this, when people marry, they are to have sexual relations with their spouses only and with no one else – PERIOD!!  That goes for these “common law” (concubine) relationships, as well.


[1]Encarta® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1999,2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.